Lineages of Capital

in Historical Materialism
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Banaji’s essays offer a powerful plea for a renewal of Marxism, a passionate argument to emancipate Marxism from the dead weight of vulgar traditions – with their simplifications, forced abstractions, mechanical reductions, generalised a-historical theorising, and familiar teleologies. To reinvigorate Marxism, argues Banaji, it is essential to use theory creatively, and recognise the need for complexity in thinking about categories. We cannot generalise about modes of production simply by referring to the forms of labour exploitation in the abstract: associate serfdom or coerced labour with feudalism, and free wage-labour with capitalism. Without historical research into the specific ways in which each economy works – its history and logic of operation – we cannot in the abstract characterise a mode of production: we only end up producing a formal evolutionary sequence of modes. Agreeing with the general thrust of the critique mounted in the book, this essay suggests that Banaji’s own arguments often reproduce the binaries and linearities he opposes, and remain framed within certain forms of reductionism.

Historical Materialism

Research in Critical Marxist Theory



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Banaji 1972, 1973, 1975, 1976a, 1976b, 1977a, and 1977b. Not all these essays are part of the collection Theory as History. In his earliest piece (1972) production relations are differentiated from relations of exploitation in the following terms: ‘We may define relations of exploitation as the particular form in which surplus is appropriated from the direct producers . . . Relations of production, on the other hand, are the specific historically determined form which particular relations of exploitation assume due to a certain level of development of the productive forces, to the predominance of particular property forms (feudal landed property etc.) and so on. Thus in the strict sense, feudalism is not the same as serfdom, . . . capitalism cannot be defined in terms of the existence or non-existence of wage labour, for the latter is only transformed into the capitalist relation of production under certain historical connections, . . .’ In his later essays, the notion of relations of production is specified slightly differently, emphasising the logic and rationality more emphatically. See Banaji 1976a.


Banaji 1977a.


Banaji 1976a.


Banaji 2001; also Banaji 2010, Chapters 6–8.


Banaji 2010, Chapter 9.


Banaji 2010. See in particular Chapter 3.


Banaji 2010.


Martinez-Alier 1971.


See Martinez-Alier 1977 and 1978.


Martinez-Alier 1977, pp. 45ff.


Martinez-Alier 1977, p. 45.


Banaji 2010, p. 131.


Banaji 2010, pp. 133–4.


Banaji 2010, p. 131.


Banaji 2010, p. 132.


Marx 1971, p. 717.


Steinfeld and Engerman 1997.


Steinfeld 1991 and 2001.


Rancière 1989.


de Certeau 1988; Rancière 1989.


Steinfeld 1991 and 2001.


Steinfeld and Engerman 1997.


Kennedy 1985, 1998 and 2002; Steinfeld 1991 and 2001.


Rubin 1972; Tuschling 1979.


Marx 1971, p. 77.


Banaji 2010, p. 106.


See Burke 1986 and 1990; Chartier 1988, Chapter 1; LaCapra 1985; Rosaldo 1986.


Yeo and Yeo 1981.


Banaji 2010, p. 42.


Breman 1979.


Prakash 1990.


Banaji 1976a.


Kula 1976.


Banaji 1976b.


Banaji 2010, pp. 46–7.


Banaji 2010, p. 112.


Bengal Land Revenue Commission 1940a, p. 69.


Bengal Land Revenue Commission 1940b.


Bhattacharya 1983. On the complicated picture in India after Independence, see Ray 1978; Rudra 1975; Bardhan and Rudra 1980; Bhaduri 1983.


Banaji 2010, p. 6.


Banaji 1977a; Banaji 2010, Chapter 10. The argument is developed also in Banaji 2010, Chapter 12.


Banaji 2010, p. 103.


See Banaji 2010, pp. 43–4. Banaji ends his conclusion to the book with the following argument: ‘In short, the theoretical distinction we need here is one between capitalism in this more general sense, a sense which allows for the commercial capitalism of the twelfth to eighteenth centuries, and what Marx himself called the “capitalist mode of production”. The latter is only a historically developed form of capitalism in the more general sense which, in this way, acquires a wider purchase and helps resolve problems that continue to mystify Marxists.’ (Banaji 2010, p. 358.) The linear schema of the succession of modes made familiar by the transition debate is replaced here with a different linearity. The shift is from the ‘initial stages’ to ‘developed’ forms, capitalism in the general sense, to the specifically capitalist mode of production. Emerging in embryonic forms, operating in diverse configurations, capital ultimately matures into forms that are seen as typical to the fully developed capitalist mode of production.


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